If you’re thinking of exploring this rich and varied country, go now.
Albania, April 2023. I arrived into Albania by crossing the border on foot from the southern tip of Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia on Good Friday. My travelling companions were Liverpool’s very own Dan, and two Sicilian comrades sporting bandannas, all plucked from the vibrant tapestry of my Ohrid hostel’s social circle the prior evening. We’d agreed that morning to walk the crossing together, so after a short minibus ride to St Naum monastery to see the peacocks and faded frescoes, we began our journey.
I wasn’t sure how we were going to get there, but trusted we’d find our way. We walked past a field with rows of identikit 1960s battered old caravans — forlorn relics of a bygone era — an unwitting testament to the MOD’s legacy during Albania’s regime days. Up a hill and round a bend and then all of a sudden we were at the border. It was that easy, or so we thought.
The border was empty, save for one bored official manning a booth. Surprised to see a motley crew of foreigners walking towards him, he perked up, stamped our passports (this was the quickest crossing I’d made in the whole Balkans), and waved us on our way.
“How much further?” I ventured to ask Dan.
“Oh, just over there, where that city is.”
This seemed miles away, but Dan assured me it was only a few kilometres. I braced myself for the hike. But then the Gods were smiling on us that day. Up ahead in the distance, was a solitary gentleman leaning casually against a rather sweet-looking BMW. It was as if destiny had summoned him expressly for our benefit.
“Përshëndetje, a keni nevojë për një udhëtim?” he asked. (Hi, do you need a ride?) He offered to drive us all into the town for 10 euros total, so naturally we all jumped in – Dan in the front, me in the back on the red leather seats, squashed between the two Sicilians. We sped off down a road that was still being built, dodging JCB diggers and workmen in ripped jeans, while the Albanian driver cranked up the volume, and the strains of “Tom’s Diner” filled the air, lyrics known only to me.
Albania was a feast for the eyes and ears already, but it was the kindness and warmth of the people that I was yet to experience that I’ll never forget. Part two coming.